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Crazy Gang spirit stirs in Newcastle Kinnear

Newcastle United 1 Blackburn Rovers 2

Sounding like a character auditioning for Michael Caine's role in Get Carter, Joe Kinnear began his short career at St James' Park on Saturday. "I think I am bright," he said.

It has become much too easy to mock Newcastle, ditto Kinnear. The whole cockney thing is overblown. Kinnear is not the problem. Just as the appointment of Graeme Souness was emblematic of Sir John Hall's withering influence, Kinnear's coming is symbolic of the man Hall sold out to: Mike Ashley. Hall was knighted by Margaret Thatcher. On bended knee, that sums up Newcastle's display. Kinnear needs first to tell people to stop praying and start addressing the mundane business of marking men at free-kicks. The 61-year-old begins today and requires all the luck in the world.

Newcastle have not played well since the opening day at Old Trafford and their options have declined since. On Saturday there were four teenagers and a 21-year-old on the bench. Someone called it a crèche.

Newcastle United is what happens when one bad decision is followed by another. Sacking Sir Bobby Robson four games into a season was one, bringing in Souness was another and it has been downhill from there.

Kinnear starts this morning at the club's Benton training centre, having travelled back to London on Saturday night. That was after he admitted that he cannot be in the dugout until Manchester City arrive on 20 October. Having failed to perform due diligence on the club and on Kevin Keegan's personality, Ashley did not check Kinnear's disciplinary record at the FA. Kinnear said that the club were "not aware" of the two-game ban hanging over him from his last days at Nottingham Forest in 2004.

At Everton on Sunday, Kinnear will be in the directors' seats. He will watch, without confidence, as Newcastle try to avoid a fifth straight league defeat. Then there is the international break, during which the club may be sold, maybe not. Now there is interest from South Africa.

What, realistically, can Kinnear do? He was asked about the Crazy Gang spirit at Wimbledon. "I could certainly educate a few more of them," he said. "In not doing silly things and being more professional on the pitch. Irrespective of the [Crazy Gang] gimmick and all the stuff that went with it we were a very professional side. Even though people cast stones at us, nine of them became internationals. You have got to ask why."

Can Newcastle be relegated, that was the next question. "Big teams in the past have gone down, but, no, Newcastle won't go down at all, no danger whatsoever."

The evidence suggests otherwise. Blackburn, as their manager, Paul Ince, said, could have been four up by half-time. Shay Given made two good saves before he was beaten by Chris Samba in the 31st minute and then Roque Santa Cruz 10 minutes later. Both goals were headers and neither scorer was challenged.

Michael Owen, whose presence is a fig leaf, scored a penalty shortly after Kinnear had appeared in the dressing room at the interval. Damien Duff was prominent thereafter and Charles N'Zogbia offered midfield energy, but Owen and Given must share despair when they speak. Kinnear is Owen's fifth manager at St James'.

Change, particularly when baffling, wears people down. Goodwill is eroded and one feels it will be restored only if the next man is young, hard and hungry. Ince has a bit of that and he talked sense afterwards. "We're only six games in," he said. "Things can change. I'm a new manager. It takes time. It's a transitional period."

It is never anything else at Newcastle, but whoever the new owners are, and whenever they come, surely they must have the wit to call Alan Shearer and get his thoughts. Kinnear should.

Goals: Samba (31) 0-1; Santa Cruz (41) 0-2; Owen pen (51) 1-2.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor, Coloccini, Cacapa, Bassong; Geremi (Ameobi, 72) Butt, N'Zogbia (Edgar, 82) Duff; Xisco, Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper, Tozer, Doninger, Donaldson, Ranger

Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): Brown; Simpson, Samba, Nelsen, Olsson; Tugay, Warnock; Emerton, Villaneuva (Fowler, 62) Derbyshire (Ooijer, 85); Santa Cruz (Roberts, 85). Substitutes not used: Bunn, Andrews, Treacy, Pedersen.

Referee: S Tanner (Somerset).

Booked: Blackburn Emerton, Warnock, Nelsen, Roberts.

Man of the match: Samba.

Attendance: 44,935.

Belfast Telegraph


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